13 Days of Horror is here! The long wait to introduce my first guest is at end and it is a real treat: He is the editor of the horror zine Tainted Tea and has stories and articles in several publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Twisted Dreams, and Blood Moon Rising coming this January. It is a pleasure to welcome my first guest to the 13 Days of Horror, Shane R. Toogood and his chilling tale, Glimpse.
by Shane R. Toogood
Pace stared as the woman in front of him parted her robe daintily, teasing him. She was delicate save for her aged hands and pale-gray skin that showed mapped rivers running to her knuckles. She pinched the edges of the black garment, pinkies in the air. Her nails were painted maroon to match the hair that was tucked in a loose bun beneath the hood that covered her eyes.
“Are you sure you want it?” She had an accent. Russian? French? Pace wasn’t sure, but her voice was sultry like silk and ash.
He tried to say yes, but instead he nodded and swallowed hard, his words getting caught in his throat.
The woman reached an arm from under the cloak and bent down to the foot of the small fire hissing between them. Grasping the debris—dust, soot, woodchips—between her leathery fingers, she thrust it into the fire. Whoosh! The flame burst like an apocalypse.
“Don’t be nervous.” The woman didn’t say a thing after that. She just smirked, her porcelain skin chipping at the corners of her dark lips. He paid like everyone else, but now that it was his turn, his first time, he wasn’t sure if he could go through with it. Meeting Madame Desiré at the County Faire wasn’t how this should happen. Especially not at fifteen.
The cabana was steamy, moist with perspiration from the others. He was half-expecting to see a crystal ball or that she would at least be wearing a turban with a long feather dangling above a fake diamond over her forehead. Instead, the room was bare except for the fire and the tension.
She stood tall and erect and draped the opening back. Pace’s eyes widened as she exposed her chest. A breeze caressed his arm like a breathing wave of sand. Gray smoke wisped around his body as he raised his hazy eyes to the cloaked woman. The smell was putrid and Pace gulped back his funnel cake and corn dog dinner that was riding on the back of his throat as her heart, the only exposed organ, pumped and oozed like strawberry preserves baking in the sun.
Cobwebs stuck to her ribcage and bits of flesh flaked off the bones. The raw pectoral and serratus anterior muscles clung to the inside of the robe, rotting and stretching back. He wanted to run. Wanted to hide. Anything but to be there with that creature, that, that…thing! But there was something alluring, something calming and reassuring about Madame Desiré.
She began chanting something in another language, rotating her still-cloaked head and clicking her tongue like a thousand locusts. Pace’s gaze was fixated on her hollow midsection. He could see through her ribs, the way the bone rounded to her scoliosis spine and attached to her uneven hips. There was a sound, a crackling trickle as if mountains were shifting.
Pace gasped, his breathing shallow. “What’s happening?”
Her bones began rattling and her ribs wiggled. Then—bam!—they flung open and Pace fell back. The echo of a tooth being pulled came from beneath the hood. Just then a piece of bone, right where her cheek would have been, chipped and fell to the ground. His lips began to tremble, but there was no fear left. No feeling at all except curiosity. Get his money’s worth. Pace was hypnotized, captivated even, by her pure essence.
He scraped himself off the brown, moldy floor. Wet, soft residue from a ripped out carpet sprinkled on his ass. Inside the tent smelled like death. Molting, fiery, decaying death.
He peered through the void, watching scenes of his future unfold in vignettes. They reeled fastidiously, barely enough time to comprehend, but the horrors became unbearable—even for an adolescent with numb emotions. Over the summer he had argued with his parents that he couldn’t wait to grow up, but now as he regarded this prospect through Madame Desiré’s gaping torso, he wished he hadn’t snuck out, stolen the fifty dollars and danced with what could have waited.
Pace moved the curtains, Danny, Sara and Walter waiting outside. His eyes were wide, the pupils dilated. They patted him on the back, hooting and laughing. “How was it, man?”
Pace felt the corndog and funnel cake making their way up the back of his throat, sour and mushy.
Madame Desiré sauntered through the tent, grasping the robe close to her breastbone and making sure that her eyes were sheltered. Smirking, she cooed, “Next?”
Pace kneeled over and let the contents splatter at his feet.
Sara knelt beside him, rubbing his back. “What is it? What happened in there?”
Before he could answer, Danny was already being led into the room, tapping the hanging sign out front of the teepee:
Meet your fate; See the future.
Pace felt a twinge in his heart as though everything in his body was crying except for his eyes. It was only a matter of time before he would meet his destiny, but it was the waiting that made him anxious. As a leaf floated to the ground, the tent stood there…blue; blue from its emptiness, blue paint chipping of the wooden sign and a blue reflection from the moon hanging on a quilt of stars. The mountains behind the carnival soothed the air with its chilling breath while a lamplight pulsed. It was almost the best night to call your last.
2010 © Shane R. Toogood
BIO: “Shane, I think you could be in a coma and still find some way to write,” his best friend once said, so it’s only natural that he is obtaining his BFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. When not taking death calls for funeral homes across the nation, Shane edits the horror zine Tainted Tea (taintedtea.com) with his friend. His short stories and articles can be read in several publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Broadway Magazine, Twisted Dreams and forthcoming in Blood Moon Rising. Should you want more info on this 6’2”, blonde bachelor, visit his Web site at http://www.shanertoogood.com